When a dog team nearly overtakes a snowmobile, you know its moving.
That’s what Rachel Kinvig threatened to do at the recent Junior World Championship Sled Dog Race in Anchorage.
Darren Kinvig was standing at the finish line waiting for her.
He asked the snowmobile scout if he’d seen her.
“I asked the driver where she was,” said Kinvig. “He said she was catching the snowmobile. He said he had to go faster.”
Rachel was cruising in at record speed.
The Whitehorse junior musher not only set a new course record at the championships two weeks ago, she won gold in the five-dog, six-mile class, getting the fastest time in each of the three races to win overall.
“I guess I’m pretty excited,” said Rachel. “I knew I had a good team.”
The achievements, both the gold and shaving 19 seconds off the course record, are quite simply the product of preparation.
The Tozier Track, which houses the championship, is no ordinary course. On it are bridges and tunnels, both of which can spook dog teams, causing them to stop. (No simple problem, stops can lead to tangles in the tuglines and gangline that can eat up a lot of time to fix.)
Problems like these contributed to a fifth-place finish at last year’s junior worlds.
To help prepare the dogs for this year, the Kinvig clan went to practice on the trail during the Christmas holidays.
“Since Rachel started racing there, she always had the dogs that were fairly young or new at racing, so she ended up with a young team the first time she went around there,” said Darren. “When she had trouble, we kept going back until they learned to do it right – until Rachel taught them to do it right.
“Last year we went over Christmas too, and then we went to the worlds and she was still having trouble with some of the young dogs.
“This year, we went back and the dogs were more mature and they learned. She kept teaching them the right way. On the first day of the worlds, she knew she had a team that would go around without stopping.”
Having started racing at the age of just six, the 14-year-old is no stranger to big competitions – or winning them. In fact, Rachel has never lost a race over two appearances at the Arctic Winter Games, becoming the most decorated musher in the Games’ history with six golds. (And she’ll be back for more when Whitehorse hosts the Games next winter.)
Last year, Rachel was awarded the Junior Alaskan Sled Dog and Racing Association’s Sportsmanship Award. In 2009, she took first place in the four-dog class at the Junior North American Championships, a race she is currently en route to and will compete in this weekend in Fairbanks.
“I think I’m running six dogs, but it’ll probably be the same team,” said Rachel. “I’m excited. I think I’ll probably do well.”
“She has never seen the speed that this team has yet,” said Darren. “So we’re pretty excited about how they’re running.”
So what gives Rachel and her team their speed? Answer: Control. Her dogs are so well trained, they will put off pooping in order to keep motoring along.
“She told me she thinks that the team could go faster because her lead dog had to go crap two miles into the race. As soon as she crossed the finish line and stopped that dog crapped,” said Darren. “To get a dog to keep running for you when it has to do that, it tells you a lot about the relationship she has with the dogs. Most dogs would just stop and say, ‘Screw you, I’ve got to go.’ And you’d end up in a big tangle.”
“I train them every day, so they listen to me,” said Rachel. “I spend a lot of time with them, probably more than other people. Other kids have their parents do it all for them, have them train their teams, but I train my own.”
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